YOU’RE INVITED: Barbara’s Bookstore and Macy’s State Street invite you to an upcoming book launch of Give the Lady What She Wants. Stay tuned for the date!
INTRODUCTION BY RICK KOGAN
The lady wanted a white wine and in quick order a full glass arrived and was placed on a square cocktail napkin on our table. We were sitting in the Walnut Room, hard by the Christmas tree at its center, hanging heavy with ornaments, some as large as a reindeer’s head.
We were in Macy’s on the day after Thanksgiving, a Friday of course, and we were happy to see the restaurant crowded with shoppers, many in the form of families with small children.
The young lady with me had three bags of her own, though there was still shopping to do and plenty of time to do it in this very building, where she had been many times in her 47 years.
“The first time, I can’t remember, but I was here almost every year with my mom and dad,” she said. There was a bit of melancholy in her words because those parents, Jack and Mary Ann, were now gone. But there was some comfort that the store was still here. It was Marshall Field & Co. when she was younger (“Field’s” to almost everybody) and Macy’s for more than a decade.
“I have those memories too,” I said. “Do you know that this room is named for its paneling? Look. That’s Circassian Walnut on the walls.”
“How do you know this?” she asked.
I went on, telling her that we were sitting in what was the first restaurant in any department store, opening in 1907 as the South Tea Room. It came to be because of a woman named Mrs. Hering— “Can’t remember her first name, if I ever knew it,” I said—who worked in the hat department. She loved to cook, and her specialty was a chicken pot pie made from her grandmother’s recipe. She got the idea to make a bunch of pies and invite friends and customers into the store to eat and view the latest hats. It was such a success that the bosses decided to open the Tea Room, which in 1937 was renamed the Walnut Room… “And here we are,” I said.
“The pot pie is still on the menu. Look, here it is,” the lady said, pointing to the menu. “I’ve had it a lot of times. How do you know all this?”
I know this and many other things about the building in which we were sitting because my father, Herman Kogan, wrote the history of this place. He wrote “Give the Lady What She Wants” with his friend and frequent collaborator Lloyd Wendt. It was published in 1952 and so I have been from my earliest years imbued with the store’s history and the meaning of it all.
So has Bette Jore, who is Lloyd Wendt’s daughter, and so, in his fashion, has Don Barliant, co-owner and president for more than five decades of Barbara’s Bookstore, a Chicago-founded group of literary oases.
Late in 2019 he approached me and Bette about the possibility of reprinting copies of “Give the Lady What She Wants.” Of course, we were both thrilled. Each of us has great admiration for the Wendt-Kogan collaboration that resulted in such other books as “Lords of the Levee,” the story of First Ward bosses John “Bathhouse John” Coughlin and Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna; “Bet a Million,” the story of noted industrialist and gambler John W. Gates; “Big Bill of Chicago,” a biography of Mayor William Hale Thompson; and “Chicago; A Pictorial History.”
These are among the books that lined the shelves of our youth. As does Bette, I still hear the sound of my father pounding pleasantly on typewriter keys. We were both terribly proud when Northwestern University Press republished “Lords” and “Big Bill” in 2006.
Don has his memories too. Born and raised on the Near West Side of the city, he can fondly recall “the toy displays, Walnut Room lunches during the Christmas holidays, and the book department.” It was where he saw and listened to famous authors “who entertained throngs of men in suits and women in hats and gloves.”
Decades later the book department moved from its spacious third floor space and was downsized in various store areas. Then early in this new century, Don was asked if Barbara’s would take over what was by then a tiny lower level book shop. That opened in 2003 and Barbara’s has recently expanded its space and that will, Don says, “Allow us, after decades of absence, to bring today’s noted authors to Chicago’s State Street.”
Many people were worried and outraged when Macy’s purchased Marshall Field & Co. and moved in, in 2006. That confounded me. It wasn’t as if the State Street building was being razed. It wasn’t as if that site and the other stores were being converted into discount grocery stores. Though there remain some still railing about the change (see fieldsfanschicago.org), Macy’s has proven keenly aware and respectful of this store’s history. It has maintained many of the store’s architectural charms, gives guided tours of the building, and upholds some of the store’s grand traditions, especially around the holidays.
That is one reason why, after a dinner of chicken pot pie, the lady I was with in the Walnut Room told our waiter, with a lovely smile, “This lady wants the Frango pie for dessert,” and why, in no time at all, it was on our table.
Read Give the Lady What She Wants—a personal recollection of the days when Don Barliant, Barbara’s president and co-owner, visited Marshall Field’s as a boy.